Back to Basics?

Thinking about how we can get students to slow down while reading Nat Turner, I tried returning to the same methods we’ve reviewed this semester for use with traditional literature. Why not?

How about asking students to pick a “most important frame?” in the tradition of Blau’s “most important line” exercise? This would not only push students to carefully review the panels, but also encourage them to try to distill the point of the story (and what is that point, by the way?) down to one pivotal moment. This might be even more important for a graphic novel, since it tends to feel like the part you’ve read is done with and the part you haven’t read is about to happen. Using this lesson would help the class to focus on the novel as a whole.

Or who says that graphic novels have to be restricted to graphic exercises? Why not have the students “write” a chapter or section of the book, using words they feel convey the story in a style that fits the illustrations? It could be really interesting to see what moods and genres they’d tap into. This exercise would also drive home the idea that a graphic novel is not so different from traditional novels they’ve read.

Lastly, how about having a character from the novel write his or her version of a section of the book – from another point of view? Or write a letter to Nat Turner about what he or she thinks about his rebellion? The challenge here would be finding a character who didn’t fall massively on one side of the rebellion or the other (black or white) as the lines of loyalty would certainly be drawn pretty distinctly. Or here’s an idea – how about a letter from a modern civil rights leader (such as Rosa Parks) to Nat Turner? That might generate some interesting discussion.

Once you open up activities to the rich array of opportunities we use for the written word, the possibilities become nearly endless!

One thought on “Back to Basics?

  1. susanwhalen

    I think the “pick a pivotal frame” idea is interesting, but at the same time this text is so lengthy and it seems one event leads to the next that I don’t think a frame would necessarily function as “the most important”. However, maybe students could pick one frame from each section that was most relevant to that section. I think this might result in having an abbreviated version of the story too.

    I like your ideas about writing from character pov.

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